The Think Tank: Twitter is in trouble

Twitter is going down the drain, and Elon Musk is bringing the sink to finish the job.

Twitter’s path under Elon Musk follows those of other media companies 

In the 37 years I’ve followed media, I have never seen a media company – social or not – that’s been run into the ground quicker than what I’m seeing with Elon Musk and Twitter.

In the sixteen years I’ve written this blog, I’ve written about how egotism and mismanagement has destroyed numerous media entities from Sam Zell buying the Tribune Co. to the escapades of Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia) and their ilk destroying radio. I’ve written how Sinclair Broadcasting has done the same to television. I’ve seen how the FCC has deregulated the media business so much as now only a few corporations own most television and radio stations and has eliminated most local programming outside of news.

And then there are individuals who do the destructions singlehandedly. I’ve written how people like Ben Silverman, Jeff Zucker, Carol Fowler, Jan Jeffries, Kevin Metheny, Randy Michaels, and many, many more have let their egos run amok, destroying once-competent operations. Then there’s ownership, seeing how Larry Tisch at CBS and the Mays brothers at Clear Channel have ruined things by running a business based on cost-cutting. Then there are those who are asses and got their comeuppance, such as former CBS chief Les Moonves and former Tribune and Sun-Times owner Michael Ferro (who left his own trail of destruction at both papers) – each were each forced out after sexual harassment charges.

Then there’s Elon Musk.

Since taking over the social media platform nearly three weeks ago, the Tesla and Space X owner from South Africa (a country that did not get television until 1976 – yes, really) has made life miserable for those who use the platform and those who work at the company. Last Friday, Musk laid off half of Twitter’s staff – roughly 3,750 or so employees just days before the midterm elections including moderators and instituted an $8 fee for anybody – and I do mean anybody – who wanted verification of their account, via a blue check mark. (and boy, this turned out to be a disaster.) A day after he took over Twitter, Musk was accused of spreading misinformation about the attack on Paul Pelosi, who is husband of House leader Nancy Pelosi.

Not surprisingly, Musk has also aligned himself with conservative U.S. politicians including former President Donald Trump and key Republican figures in Congress, even urging voters to cast their ballot for them in the midterms as they are willing to throw their weight around. For example, when Musk was sending mixed signals about keeping hate speech and racism off the platform sending ad agencies and their clients to either pause or withdraw their advertising, several Republicans threatened them with hearings and other forms for retaliation. His non-commitment to combating hate speech has sent many Black Twitter users either abandoning the platform or are considering it. And Musk obviously despises journalists.

And apparently, if you don’t like to play by his rules, Musk will ban you faster than the fire department can put out a fire. Ask Kathy Griffin.

The new Twitter Verification plan under Elon Musk has been branded a disaster so far.

What’s to make of all this? For starters, communications platforms such as TV, radio, and social media are different from, say a plastics company or an aerospace firm as General Electric found out the hard way when they bought RCA in 1986, who owned NBC. Despite finishing first in primetime throughout most of GE’s 18-year reign of ownership, the company was knocked for constant cost-cutting and terrible management, drawing the ire of late night host David Letterman by making fun of those “corporate weasels” on a nightly basis.

Larry Tisch’s ownership of CBS was more disastrous given his reputation as a cheapskate – falling into third-place in prime-time by 1987, selling the profitable record division in 1988, and while he was able to lure David Letterman from NBC, the network lost the longtime NFC football package to Fox and overpaid for Major League Baseball and two Winter Olympics, despite earning big ratings from the Lillehammer games. Thank you, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

And I already told you about Sam Zell’s disastrous take over of the Tribune, who I drew comparisons to back in April.

Given Musk’s take-it-or-leave-it style of Twitter, many users are leaving it. The charging for content while other social media sites aren’t, his rude behavior on the platform, his embracing of conspiracy theories, and flat-out lying about preventing Twitter of being a “hellscape” is a recipe for disaster. Acting like Jeffries or Metheny, who each used cartoonish TV boss-like behavior to bully employees – such as banging on the window of the DJs booth saying “you talk too much” or throwing an ashtray at someone’s head is more likely to chase them out the door and discourage newer hires – which explains why both were respectively fired themselves after their own bosses got sick of them.

And certainly, Musk’s new found friends on the right side of the aisle will move on to some other corporate butt licker once Twitter files for chapter eleven and sold in a bankruptcy court auction to some schmuck in Muncie, Ind. Musk will quickly find out his “friends” like Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell really don’t have power outside of their hollowed chambers as advertising agencies don’t have to answer to Republican politicians because they are NOT their bosses and don’t sign their employees’ paychecks. Their stance is hypocritical given in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, it was conservative groups (led by Donald Wildmon and the Parents Television Council) who were pressuring companies to pull advertising from programs such as Married…With Children, Jerry Springer, and Family Guy, among others for offensive content.

It’s interesting these people in the media business never learn their lessons from past mistakes others made – or want to learn. It’s about the power and influence, because they believe they’re always right, “public interest” be damned. Musk did something not even Zell, GE, Tisch, and Ferro couldn’t accomplish – driving a media company into the ground in less than two weeks. Well done.

The future of T Dog Media on Twitter

Right now, there are no plans to stop using Twitter as it is still the most effective way to attract readers to this site. But from what’s been reported, Musk may make it harder for those who won’t pay for the blue verification check and if he does eventually plan to put all of Twitter behind a paywall, then T Dog Media will likely leave the platform as this will instantly reduce audience reach. Another scenario being looked at is to use Twitter only for blog posts and nothing else – similar to what I do with Facebook and Linked In as I may reduce my personal presence on the platform in part because Twitter simply isn’t fun anymore. Some people I’ve followed for years have already left and their presence will be missed. 

I’ll monitor what Musk does in the weeks and months ahead and we’ll go from there. No matter what happens, the T Dog Media Twitter account will not be deactivated.

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